By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
The waters of Isabella Lake might be inviting to swimmers and recreationalists on these hot summer days, but Kern County Health officials are advising the public to stay out of the water due to the presence of potentially harmful algae blooms.
On June 20, the Kern County Public Health Services issued an advisory for Kissack Cove and Paradise Cove, warning water recreationalists to avoid contact with the water in these areas. According to a news release issued by the Public Health Services department, water testing performed by the State of California Water Resources Control Board indicated the presence of potentially harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in both areas.
This week, that advisory was intensified, as the public health agency learned that the blue-green algae is not limited to Kissack and Paradise Coves.
According to Matthew Constantine, Director of Kern County Public Health Services, his office recently started receiving reports from the public who expressed concern about the presence of the blue-green algae around the perimeter of Isabella Lake as well as in the Kern River.
“We have also received satellite imagery from the State showing the presence of the blue-green algae,” Constantine said. “Lake Isabella is dramatically impacted by another cycle of the potentially harmful blue-green algae.”
Constantine said that while the satellite imagery shows the two known areas of Kissack Cove and Paradise Cove, it also showed additional areas around the lake that appears to have even more of the harmful algae. All this new information causes concern for Constantine.
The health agency deployed several teams to the Kern Valley on Monday, July 17, to collect samples and data from the public access areas around the perimeter of Isabella Lake as well as from the southern portion of the Kern River.
Constantine said they will know more later this week once that data from the surveys has been analyzed. In the interim, he said, based on the information they now have, they will be posting additional signs of a more permanent nature this week to raise awareness urging the public to avoid contact with the water and to keep children and dogs away from the blooms.
Last year, the presence of the blue-green algae triggered concern, and warning signs were posted at Kissack Cove and Paradise Cove. Constantine said he was not aware of any reported illnesses connected with the algae from last year’s bloom.
The big difference this year, Constantine said is that they are seeing it in other areas around the lake. “Our concern this year is the significance of the satellite imagery. All these pieces of information allow us to advise the public. And we want people to be aware and informed. We are asking people to avoid water contact in the areas where the blue-green algae blooms are.”
Increased water temperatures, slow moving water and excessive nutrients or organic matter cause cyanobacteria and some algae to rapidly multiply and form harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms of blue-green algae are capable of producing toxins, which have the potential to cause significant health concerns.
The public health agency warns that cyanobacteria toxins can be present even though a bloom is not visible and that not all HABs will appear on the water’s surface as some are at the bottom of a body of water, while others may float at various depths. Dogs, wildlife and children are most likely to be affected because of their smaller body size and tendency to stay in the water for longer periods of time.
According to the health agency, recreational exposure to cyanobacteria and associated toxins can cause eye irritation, skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea and cold or flu-like symptoms. Pets can be especially susceptible because they tend to drink while in the water and lick their fur after, increasing their risk of exposure and illness. Symptoms of animal illness include: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abnormal liver function test results, difficulty
breathing, foaming at the mouth, muscle twitching and sometimes death.
As precautionary measures, the health agency reminds water recreationalists to:
– Heed all instructions on posted advisory signs.
– Avoid body contact with algae blooms.
– Keep an eye on children and dogs, ensuring that they do not approach areas with algae blooms.
– Do not drink untreated lake or river water. Common water purification techniques such as camping filters, tablets and boiling do not remove toxins.
– Do not cook or wash dishes with lake or river water.
– Wash yourself, your family, and your pets with clean water after swimming in lake or river.
– Consume fish only after cleaning and preparing thoroughly.
The public is encouraged to contact the Public Health Services agency at 661-321-3000 to report areas that are impacted by the blue-green algae blooms. More information can be obtained from their website at: http://www.kernpublichealth.com.